Fire cost could be in millions

SAM SACHDEVA
Last updated 05:00 15/01/2013

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Fires that ravaged parts of Canterbury may cost the region millions of dollars, with the owners of a badly hit farm facing a $450,000 bill to restart their business.

Last week's fires, including a blaze on the outskirts of Christchurch on Thursday and a scrub fire at West Melton on Friday, destroyed several properties and took more than 20 fire crews to contain.

Selwyn District Council principal rural fire officer Wilson Brown said it was too early to put an exact cost on the fires, but the bill could run into millions of dollars.

"There's the cost of fighting the fire itself, and we're probably looking at $500,000. Then there's the property damage - the houses, big buildings, farm machinery, hedge lines and all the other bits and pieces."

He said the council would incur most of the bill as other agencies involved in fighting the fire would charge it for their expenses.

Brown said the council would then attempt to recover its money by applying to the rural firefighting fund or charging whoever was responsible for starting the fire.

The council was investigating how and where the fire started and would look at the issue of costs once the inquiry was completed, he said.

"Things are still so raw with everybody; it's a very hard process," he said.

Egg farmer Allan Marshall, who lost 18,000 hens and most of his farm in Thursday's blaze, is counting the cost of the devastation.

While the farm had been insured, the cost of the material damage was likely to be at least $200,000 over its maximum payout.

Marshall and wife Judy would also have to pay to replace their hens, which had not been insured because of the difficulty of obtaining cover.

"With the time it takes to bring on birds from a young age, it will take about two years to restock, so we'd be looking at another $250,000 over two years before we'd get a full return," he said.

Marshall and his wife were still deciding whether to reopen their business of 20 years.

"By the time we'd be up and running, I'd be nearly 60, so I have to think, ‘Am I able to put in that effort?' "

They have been forced to lay off their five staff.

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- The Press

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